Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Department of Homeland Security has allowed thousands of employers to hire millions of illegal aliens because of a lack of funding, manpower and commitment to solve the problem, a House subcommittee was told yesterday.

Homeland Security — through U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) — has not actively sought to bring cases or level fines against employers who knowingly hire illegals, said Carl W. Hampe, the Justice Department’s former top legal representative in immigration litigation.

“Despite strong bipartisan support for employer sanctions, no attention is being paid by ICE to workplace enforcement,” Mr. Hampe told the House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, border security and claims. “Clearly this sends a message that if you can get into the United States, you can find a job.”

Mr. Hampe, who negotiated and drafted the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 and the Immigration Act of 1990, both of which called for stronger work-site enforcement, described the “low level” of employer sanctions by ICE as “inappropriate,” adding that “it must be reversed.”

In 2004, ICE issued three notices of intent to seek fines against employers for knowingly hiring illegals — compared with more than 400 by the now-defunct U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in 1999, Richard M. Stana, director of homeland security and justice issues at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), told the subcommittee.

“Issues of national security have been the focus of ICE investigations, and while none of us wants to see another September 11, work-site enforcement has been discouraged,” Mr. Stana said. “Fines are often negotiated so low they are viewed by employers as a cost of doing business instead of a punishment.

“Certainly there has been a dispiriting among ICE agents who see fines reduced and the illegal aliens who are taken out of the workplace released to find new jobs because there is no detention space to hold them,” he said.

No one from ICE was invited to testify, although ICE spokesman Dean Boyd yesterday said the agency has developed a “comprehensive strategy” for fighting illegal immigration that includes “effective work-site enforcement aimed at promoting national security, protecting critical infrastructure and ensuring fair labor standards.”

Mr. Boyd said ICE’s commitment to the program is reflected in its fiscal 2006 budget request, which seeks an $18 million increase for work-site enforcement.

Limited since its March 2003 creation by budgetary restraints, ICE has targeted critical infrastructure and national security facilities for work-site enforcement. Several nationwide operations have removed illegal aliens from some of the nation’s most sensitive work sites, including airports, nuclear power plants and defense facilities.

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